Growing Together in the Character of Christ 

Building well with the master-builder’s vision and plan

Sometime after the great fire of London which had destroyed most of the city in 1666, an observer stopped to watch three construction workers at the site of a demolished cathedral. The observer asked each of the workers, “What are you doing?” 

The first worker replied, “I’m laying bricks to earn some money.”  

The second worker said, “I’m building a wall.”  

The third worker responded, “I’m helping Sir Christopher Wren build a great cathedral for the glory of God.” The story goes that Sir Christopher Wren, the architect for St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, was the unrecognized observer that day who posed the question to these workers. Wren must have been very pleased with the third man’s response. He had his eye on building something of great value and something that would last.

God’s plan for our spiritual growth and maturity 

When Paul the Apostle wrote to the Christian community at Ephesus, he explained the great vision and plan which God purposed in Christ for our spiritual growth and maturity in faith, love, humility, and unity – essential qualities for building up the body of Christ:

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace… so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining the full measure of the perfection found in Christ… Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” 

Ephesians 4:1-3,12-13,15-16 (NIV translation)

Paul says it is essential for all the members of the body of Christ to grow in the character of the Lord Jesus. Being built in the character of Christ is essential for personal growth in Christian maturity, and for living together as a community of disciples united in Christ. 

And there are no shortcuts to maturity and discipleship. Good intentions are fruitless without the discipline of steady effort and perseverance – the building blocks of character. Charles Read (1814-1884) once wrote: 

“Sow an act and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny.” 

Young people won’t grow up without good role models and teachers 

When Titus, a young disciple who was trained by the Apostle Paul, was appointed to a leadership role in the Christian community, Paul gave him a solemn charge. 

“Show yourself in all respects a model of good deeds, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech that cannot be censured, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us.”

 Letter to Titus 2:7 

The first thing Paul pointed out to Titus was “Be a good role model.” 

Leaders are role models – whether they recognize it or not. People instinctively observe how leaders act and behave. Unfortunately, many people today in post-Christian societies lack good understanding and formation in moral and intellectual character, and the Christian virtues have largely been neglected or rejected.

Recovering moral education and formation in Christian character

Many Christians now live in a society that has lost all sense of growing up and maturing as adults. Dr. Thomas Bergler in his book, The Juvenilization of American Christianity, describes this dilemma among Christians today: 

We’re All Adolescents Now. Americans of all ages are not sure they want to grow up. If you listen carefully, you can sometimes hear thirty​ or forty-year-olds say things like “I guess I have to start thinking of myself as an adult now.” Greeting cards bear messages like “Growing old is inevitable. Growing up is optional.” A recent national study of the sexual lives of eighteen-to twenty-​three-​year-​olds found that most want to get married and have children – eventually. But they think of settling down as the end of the good part of their lives. One young woman spoke for many in the study when she said that having children will be “what makes your life, like, full, after like, you are done with your life, I guess.”

Beginning in the 1930s and 1940s, three factors combined to create the juvenilization of American Christianity. First, new and more powerful youth cultures created distance between adults and adolescents. Second, in an attempt to convert, mobilize, or just hang on to their teenage children, Christian adults adapted the faith to adolescent tastes. As a result of these first two factors, the stereotypical youth group that combines fun and games with a brief, entertaining religious message was born. In the years since, this model of youth ministry has become a taken-for-granted part of church life. Finally, the journey to adulthood became longer and more confusing, with maturity now just one among many options. The result was juvenilization: the process by which the religious beliefs, practices, and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted – or even celebrated – as appropriate for Christians of all ages.

A full recovery of moral integrity and growth in the virtues are necessary for building and maintaining strong marriages and families, communities and churches. An inter-generational  and communal approach to character education and training is needed. Teachers, mentors, and role models are imperative, along with practical application, wisdom and encouragement. A  supportive social environment where young and old can naturally interact together in mutually upbuilding ways make this task more likely to succeed and bear fruit for upcoming generations as well. (See article, Forming Mature Disciples of Jesus Among Generation Z Members,by Thomas Bergler.)

I am convinced that training in character is an absolute prerequisite for everyone – because it includes not only our work and social activities, but the entirety of our lives as well. Character formation, especially in the Christ-like virtues which the Scriptures present, is essential for spiritual growth and maturity, and the ability to live in harmony and work well together –especially  in Christian environments, homes, and communities where Christian love and unity can be mutually fostered together. 

Our task as Christian leaders, along with our brothers and sisters in Christ, is to raise up generations of disciples who follow the Lord Jesus and who offer their lives in generous service and care to help others grow in faith, hope, and love. We are not alone in this great task. The Lord Jesus is always with us every step of the way. And he equips us with his gifts, wisdom, and guidance, through the grace and work of the Holy Spirit who teaches, directs, disciplines, and strengthens us on our journey of faith through this present life to eternity with our Father in heaven.

For further study and reflection on the practical application of growing in Christian character and the virtues, see the following articles and topics: 

Top image credits: 

Graphic artwork depicting Christians uniting together around the symbol of the Cross of Christ, from, ©Digital Storm , stock photo ID: 81935960. Image source.

Painting of Sir Christopher Wren being lifted in a basket to inspect the construction of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, © by Peter Jackson, artist, image source

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